Medscape: Oral Health in Older Patients: A Job for Primary Care?

Karen Becerra, DDS, MPH
CEO/Dental Director, Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center, San Diego, California

“You are not healthy without good oral health.”[1] That statement, made by former US Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, PhD, nearly two decades ago, is as true today as it was then. The mouth/body connection has been clearly established, yet oral health continues to take a back seat to general health.

A recent Health Affairs[2] study revealed that Americans are likely to skip needed dental care more often than any other type of healthcare, despite the impact that dental diseases have on physical, psychological, social, and economic health and well-being through pain, diminished function, and reduced quality of life. Increasing evidence suggests a relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes, cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, and wound healing. A recent paper in JAMA[3] suggested that one type of oral bacteria—Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, which is found in 20%-80% of adults with periodontitis[4]—may be an important trigger in about one half of rheumatoid arthritis cases.